Author’s Bio: Ron Smith is a Critical Thinker. He holds a Ph.D. in physics and is a retired engineer, manager, and senior executive from the high-tech industry. He serves as a Trustee of Gettysburg College and is a philanthropist to multiple institutions of higher education, including within the University of California system.
A famous idiom dates back to the first Democracy in ancient Greece: “Actions speak louder than words”. For U.S. presidential candidates, this idiom applies when candidates’ past actions are vetted against their campaign promises and positions. But unlike the other candidates -- and despite a 44 year career in politics! -- Bernie Sanders has received very little vetting of his actions against his campaign promises.
One of the most obvious is his proposal for free tuition for all students at public universities. Bernie’s proposal calls for the Federal Government to pay ⅔ and each state to pay ⅓ of the cost of attending their state public universities. Bernie lives in Burlington, Vermont’s largest city (pop. 42,000), where he was mayor back in the 80’s.
Burlington is home to the University of Vermont (UVM), the state’s flagship public university with approximately 12,000 students. One would think that UVM financing would be similar to Bernie’s campaign proposal, given his long political career in representing the state. But this is hardly the case.
According to both the Fiscal Year (FY)15 (2014-15 academic year) and FY16 (2015-2016 academic year) requests of UVM to the state legislature, the State of Vermont supports a mere 7% of the budget of UVM. That makes Vermont THE LOWEST of all 50 states in terms of relative state government budget support for their public universities.
Another way to evaluate this is to measure the total dollars spent by the state on higher education as a percentage of personal income. According to CollegeBoard.org, Vermont spends less than $4 per $1,000 of personal income on higher education and is ranked 47th of the 50 states in this category.
One might argue that Vermont is simply a poor rural state -- that’s certainly the impression Bernie would like you to believe. In fact, according to the U.S. Census Bureau estimates for 2014 (last year available) Vermont had the 14th highest household income of the 50 states plus Washington, D.C., coming in right ahead of California at 15th!
So where does the University of Vermont funding come from? According to the FY15 and FY16 legislature reports, the overwhelming majority of the budget comes from student tuition and fees. The bulk of this money comes from out-of-state students.
Vermont state law requires out-of-state tuition to be at least 2.5 times in-state tuition. The total cost of attending UVM for an out-of-state student is more than $50,000 per year (including room and board -- which the following chart does not).
UVM actively brags in their legislative presentations that they have students from 48 states and 40 foreign countries. According to the university’s own statistics over the last ten years, approximately 75% of their undergraduate admits have been from out-of-state.
This is the HIGHEST out-of-state admission rate for any public university in the nation.
The Burlington Free Press notes that there has been a steady decline in the percentage of students from Vermont attending UVM for the past twenty years. In the FY15 legislative presentation, UVM brags about how they brought $341 million into the state annually from out-of-state student tuition/fees -- and another $90 million that these students spend in the state along with $10M from out-of-state visitors (i.e. parents).
They openly boast about how, including the “multiplier effect,” this results in a net contribution to the state and local Burlington economy of more than $1 billion per year.
Both the FY15 and FY16 legislative presentations boast about the 24-25X return on the state taxpayer investment that comes from these out-of-state spenders. And, aside from the state government itself, UVM and its Fanny Allen Health Center comprise the largest employer in the state.
High-tuition public higher education is a major part of the economy of the State of Vermont.
With his “free tuition at public universities” plan, Bernie needs to convince each state government to absorb his “⅓ of the cost” of tuition proposal -- which would mean a 400% spending increase from Vermont. Given that he has not been able to convince the legislature and governor of his home state to provide anywhere near this level of financial support to the public university located in his home city, how can anyone realistically expect him to convince the governments of the other 49 states to cough up the levels of dollars needed for his plan (let alone convince Congress to fund the other 2/3rds)?
Perhaps Bernie’s real plan is actually more like the UVM plan: give much lower or “nearly” free tuition to all in-state students, but recruit 75% of the students from out-of-state with their high tuition. Imagine how well this would work at the University of California campuses, if only 25% of the spots were reserved for California students and 75% were reserved for students from out-of-state.
In summary, Bernie comes from a state and a city that has had a major portion of their economy funded by high tuition, using their flagship public university as a means to recruit out-of-state money. Bernie obviously has done nothing to change this situation over the last twenty years, despite his enormous home state political influence. This influx of funds from the rising costs of college in effect, has significantly helped provide the economic foundation for Bernie’s political career. Yet, Bernie’s words are totally inconsistent with this situation and his actions (or lack thereof) that created it.
So either he is incapable of putting his words into action -- his “free tuition” proposals are simply unrealistic and unactionable -- and/or he is consciously deceiving his followers by advocating something he knows has no hope of ever occurring as he panders for votes. Whatever the case, he is playing a cruel joke on the young people who make up the bulk of his enthusiastic followers.
Bernie’s role in the UVM situation does not jive with his oxymoronic portrayal of himself as an “honest politician”. This shows that he does not “walk the talk” any more than other candidates.
Bernie, your “Actions Speak Louder than Words.”
About the Author
Eva is a content specialist with a passion for play, travel... and a little bit of girl power. Read more >
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